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Totem Poles: An Adventure in Culture and Remberance

AlaskaI got off the cruise ship and admired the landscape surrounding the dock. This was one of the last stops on this Alaskan adventure. Everything is so beautiful here and different from Mississippi.

The small town was directly off the dock and had a unique architecture to the buildings. They were two stories and made of wood with brightly colored exteriors. Each shop had its own unique goods to sell. The buildings fit in perfectly with the mountains in the backdrop.

I adjusted my coat and hat as we entered the small boat for the tour. It is cold in Alaska this May morning with a bit of a biting wind. The boat is going to take us on a tour of an old fish factory, a rain forest, and a totem pole village. This was going to be an exciting day.

The fishing factory had provided employment and food to the people of this Alaskan island for many years. I was impressed how the people of this cold land took advantage of the natural resources surrounding them. The factory had been closed for many years and now it was a museum. The history and resilience of the people in Alaska is fascinating.

The last stop on this tour is a totem pole village. It is a wonderful site to behold. In a circle are very large totem poles. They are extremely colorful and are beautiful in their tall structure.

The native Alaskans believe that everything comes from Mother Earth. They do not tear any structure down but allow Mother Earth to retake it. There are many old abandoned buildings falling down on this island. They will continue to deteriorate until Mother Earth completely recycles them back into the soil.

This deterioration is a wonderful example of the symbiotic relationship the people have with the land. Each thing taken from the land is returned and nourishes the environment. The same principle is true of the totem poles.

The native Alaskans used the totem poles as an impression of their culture. The totem poles are constructed out of wood and have elaborate carvings in the wood. The colorful carvings represent different parts of the belief system of the people.

There are times when a deceased person’s remains are inserted into the totem pole. The pole serves as a representation of that person’s life. Each event in that person’s life is represented by a carving. It is an interesting testament to life.

While viewing some of the totem poles I pondered at how our lives would be depicted if this was a common practice. Would our lives be depicted as a positive influence filled with love and joy or would the totem poles reflect our negatives influences such as hatred and bitterness? It is an interesting question for each of us to answer.

Each totem pole has a series of carvings on them that represent parts of the culture. The Alaskan totem poles have carvings of animals in them. Many believe that these animals will guide their deceased loved ones to the spiritual world.

Other totem poles have carvings that represent a certain part of a family’s heritage. Each impression is used to express what is important to be passed on to future generations. This is a wonderful legacy.

The totem poles remain until Mother Earth reclaims them. The totem pole deteriorates and returns to the soil where it provides nourishment. This is a continuance of the cycle of life.

Before leaving the totem pole village we visit the gift shop. I find a small totem pole that has been carved by the native Alaskan people. It is small and has beautiful vibrant colors. There is a small card attached that indicates the artist. I wonder what the artist had wanted to express about his life in this small carving.

We return to the tour bus and proceed back to town. We are instructed to look out the windows of  the bus while passing over a bridge. There is a bear gathering and eating salmon from the creek. This is a common occurrence as people and animals live in harmony in this community.

While standing in the cold biting wind waiting to get back on the cruise ship I look at my small totem pole and reflect on the impression the tour has made on me. From this time forward I will try to fill my life with positive influences. Perhaps if a totem pole was erected as my grave marker it would reflect a life of service to others.

Finally we enter the cruise ship and it is warm again. I am blessed to have been on this tour and my soul is nourished. The totem poles have made a wonderful impression on me.

copyright 2017 Debbie Pierce

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Notorious: A Fisherman’s Tall Tale

alligator on golf course 2 may 5

Our actions in life can make us notorious. Some people are famous for the jokes they tell and others are known for their kindness. In my family there was a great-uncle known for his tall tales. Jim was an average size fellow and a little overweight. He was an older man when I knew him and loved to sit and talk. Jim could spin a tale from thin air.

The community church would have a potluck dinner one Sunday a month. It was a wonderful gathering with a variety of food on the tables. Jim and his wife would join this group and often there would be stories exchanged in the afternoon. The storytelling would last for hours as each person told a tale. Finally it was Jim’s turn to take the stage.

There was a morning Jim went fishing at a lake near his home. The morning air was cool and the sun was beginning to shine on the lake. The glimmer from the sun made it a little difficult to see the swells from the fish rising to the top of the lake.

There was a small island not far from the fishing spot. It had tall trees with thick green leaves and some brush on the edge of the water. There was a large gray alligator sunning itself on the banks. The alligator had huge eyes and briefly opened his large mouth. He appeared to announce to the world that this was his territory.

Jim took note of the alligator’s presence but continued to bait his pole with a minnow and then threw the line into the pond. The red and white bobbin moved around in the water as the minnow swam around looking for safety. In a few minutes it settled down and all was quiet.

Relaxing on the banks of the lake is calming and nourishing to the soul. The sun was warm this morning and acted as a warm blanket. The sounds of the birds and crickets around you sound like a lullaby. It is easy to fall into deep thought or fall asleep listening to the sounds of nature.

Jim was almost asleep when suddenly the line jerked and the bobbin went down into the water. He stumbled out of the chair and quickly pulled on the line. The fish fought and was splashing in the water as Jim attempted to pull him in. In all of the commotion the alligator who had been watching this action decided to join the struggle.

The alligator moved toward the fighting fish and opened his wide mouth in an attempt to steal the fish. Jim was unwavered and pulled the fish back from the alligator before he could eat it. The alligator was also unswayed and moved in closer to the pole in another attempt to get the fish. This back and forth struggle went on for about ten minutes before Jim let the alligator have the fish.

It seemed that the battle was over until Jim decided to throw rocks at the alligator. This agitated the alligator and he swam to the bank to come after Jim. The fishing pole was the only obstacle between them. The alligator grabbed the pole and Jim began to fight for the pole. After much back and forth pulling action of the pole Jim decided to let go.

The alligator took his prize and returned to the calm bank of the small island. Jim was exhausted but not deterred as he grabbed a new pole and baited the line. Tossing the line back into the water Jim sat down and resumed his calm stance in the chair.

All was calm after this encounter and it was soon time to return home. The alligator was content with his prize and Jim returned home with a stringer filled with fish. His wife was waiting for his return with the food for the evening meal.

Jim waited patiently for his wife to inquire about the events of the day. She finally asked how the day had gone and he began to weave the tale. His wife laughed and stated how glad she was the alligator had been content with the fish and fishing pole. It would have been sad to lose Jim.

The group of people at the church lunch laughed as they heard the end of the story. Many wondered if Jim’s ability to tell a story was inherited or learned. They all agreed that being notorious for telling a tall tale is a wonderful blessing.

copyright 2017 Debbie Pierce

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Reflections for Earth Day

Immortality is an idea that most people contemplate in a lifetime. This idea is expressed in religion, culture, and nature. This is an exploration of immortality in nature.

The forest is an interesting ecosystem in the life it supports. There are birds and insects that have abundant lives on the food and water provided by nature. The trees and various plants thrive on the soil which provides nutrients. There is a continuance of the life cycle throughout this symbiotic relationship.

petrified forest water path 2 april 14

The trees have found an interesting way to immortality. Petrified wood is trees which have been transformed into stone through a process called permineralization. Using the ingredients essential for life the ecosystem is the way to immortality. Once transformed the tree is preserved for eternity.

In the mist of the living is the immortality of the preserved. Throughout the continuance of life these petrified trees witness the renewal of the forest. Every season brings rains, snow, scorching heat, and other changes in the earth that change the ecosystem. Yet the petrified trees remain the same.

The process of permineralization is a slow one which takes millions of years. During this time the journey of life continues and the forest changes. Through the years if the forest is allowed to progress naturally then the petrified tree will observe the changes from its original home. If the forest is destroyed by fire or other means, then the petrified tree is alone or moved from the ecosystem.

petrified wood april 14

What does this say about immortality in nature? Is life in stone renewal or is it just another journey into death? The answers to these questions lie in every person’s definition of life. I believe that life and death are a journey that must continue. Nature continues to change in life and every death contributes to renewal.

When the tree becomes stone it stagnates and does not participate in the renewal of life. Watching from a stone does not lead it to continue the journey that nature encourages. Therefore, true immortality cannot be achieved through permineralization. There is a loss of meaning and true death. There is no life for the tree beyond this stone state.

copyright 2017 Debbie Pierce